2011 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS: Driven

March 8, 2011
The Lancer GTS is often overlooked by small-car shoppers on a tight budget—and they're missing out on a good thing. For the same money as less-inspiring drives that fully feel like budget transportation, there's a lot more to the Lancer, and its surprisingly able handling and refreshingly direct driving experience might just charm you.

It did charm us. Unlike Mitsubishi's turbocharged Lancer Ralliart and Lancer Evolution models, the GTS is one that you can drive for satisfying bursts with the engine at full boil and not be in danger of losing your license.

The Lancer GTS provides the same kind of seductively simple tactile enjoyment that you could find in a host of four-cylinder 'pocket rockets' in the '90s: Cars like the Honda Civic Si, Nissan Sentra SE-R, or even the Dodge Neon R/T all had a depth of chassis tuning that felt capable of handling a far more powerful engine, and the same is true here.

Of course, you can get a Lancer GTS with a more powerful turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive; it's called the Ralliart. But the front-wheel-drive GTS costs thousands less.

The Lancer GTS comes with an engine that churns out the torque, so there's not much need to rev, even if you'll enjoy doing it. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 168 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque and comes hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox that's among the sweetest in any new car, slightly notchy but with smooth and precise gates and a satisfying feel (really, this would be a great setup to teach a teen to drive stick). With the excellent shifter, revving the engine past its 6,000-rpm power peak is loud but rewarding.

Mitsubishi appears to have chosen ratios for the five-speed that are a nice compromise between acceleration and fuel economy. Fifth gear keeps the engine spinning near the 3,000 mark at 70 mph—lower than other sporty small cars—and while also taller, the lower gears are closely spaced. In a week and about 100 miles of enthusiastic driving, with a mix of conditions ranging from cold-weather stop-and-go to a short cruise on the Interstate, we averaged a decent 24 mpg—which feels about in line with the EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 31 highway.

 

And if the powertrain isn't enough to convince you, the GTS's steering is excellent. The quick-ratio rack is precise and well-weighted, and it's nicely assisted at parking speeds, yet in tight corners gives a surprisingly nuanced assessment of remaining grip. And while it tracks just fine on the highway, there's thankfully none of the artificial, heavy feel that some automakers are convinced we want on center.

While we had no problem getting comfortable in the GTS's sport seats—and we loved the upright driving position—some might be irked by the lack of telescopic steering adjustment. Otherwise, there's not a lot of comfort here; there's really nowhere to put one's elbows, and the ones built into the door are far forward—really only for shorter drivers. The Sportback hatchback body style, though it might bring a little more road noise, is our preferred way to get the GTS, as it opens up a very versatile cargo space, with seats that fold forward flat.

The only real down side to the Lancer GTS is that Mitsubishi makes no concerted effort to make it feel upscale, so while you'll enjoy the driving experience your passengers will surely know they're in a vehicle that skimps inside. Its hard cabin plastics, ragged details, and plentiful engine and road noise at speed tell you that with just a few minutes in the car.

The Sportback GTS we drove came with a bottom-line sticker price of just $20,455, which pretty much nails our initial point home. The GTS is inexpensive and refreshingly direct, satisfying, and different—and if you're a poseur, it might be mistaken for a Ralliart.

And it's quite possibly—considering its value—Mitsubishi's strongest vehicle for the U.S. market.

For more information on the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer family, be sure to visit our full review, where you'll find full sections on performance, comfort, styling, features, and more, plus additional pictures and related news.

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